Chancellor set to impose ‘safety net’

Chancellor Philip Hammond preparing his speech in Downing Street ahead of the budget. Pic: Carl Court/PA Wire
Chancellor Philip Hammond preparing his speech in Downing Street ahead of the budget. Pic: Carl Court/PA Wire

Plans to pump millions into creating new free schools could have a knock-on impact on the borough as the nation awaits Philip Hammond’s first budget.

Despite warnings in recent weeks about cuts to state schools, Mr Hammond is expected to announce £320m is being made available for up to 140 new free or grammar schools.

Teachers and heads in the thousands of existing state schools which are facing real-terms cuts in funding for their pupils will be dismayed to see the Chancellor throwing more money at free and grammar schools

Dr Mary Bousted

Changes to business rates, adult social care funding and the plans for the NHS will also be under the spotlight in his first budget announcement since taking over from George Osborne.

Reports suggest Mr Hammond will prioritise building up a Brexit safety net instead of unveiling a spending spree, having made it clear he wanted to ensure the country had enough resources in reserve to cope with any turbulence over the next two years.

However, the funds for free schools - building on the Government’s commitment to open 500 new free schools by 2020 - will cause consternation among many of the borough’s leading figures.

Leigh MP Andy Burnham, council education lead Coun Jo Platt and senior union figures are among those to voice warnings about cuts to schools funding.

Every primary and secondary school will be forced to make savings this year and Michael Wilson, regional representative for the NAHT union has said pupils will soon see a tangible impact, such as fewer school trips or education resources.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “Teachers and heads in the thousands of existing state schools which are facing real-terms cuts in funding for their pupils will be dismayed to see the Chancellor throwing more money at free and grammar schools. It will do nothing to help schools recruit and retain teachers and heads, and will put a broad and balanced curriculum at risk.”

The indication that Mr Hammond is to err on the side of caution when it comes to pouring more funds into services, such as adult social care, may not surprise town hall bosses.

Wigan Council last week opted to impose a three per cent council tax increase with the proceeds ring-fenced for the cash-strapped care service.

And leader Lord Smith was joined by his opposition leader Coun Mike Winstanley in stating the system requires a funding overhaul.

However, the chancellor is expected not to loosen the purse strings in this area.

Praising the economy’s “resilience” in the face of some gloomy post-Brexit referendum forecasts, Mr Hammond indicated he was not prepared to take risks.

He said this week: “Remember, we have over £1.7 trillion worth of debt. This isn’t money in a pot. What is being speculated on is whether we might not have borrowed quite as much as we were forecast to borrow.

“If your bank increases your credit card limit, I don’t think you feel obliged to go out and spend every last penny of it immediately.”

In terms of business rates, more borough businesses will benefit from tax subsidies under changes to the system. However, many, especially in the South-East, will be adversely hit, meaning the plans have not been warmly received by many Tory MPs.